I want to bring you up-to-date on the status of the victims of last Monday’s fire at Estes and Paulina and how you can help them.
Fortunately, all the residents of the building escaped the fire without injury. Seven firefighters did get hurt, but none seriously. Six firefighters slipped on ice due to water buildup from fighting the fire on that bone-chilling morning, and one was injured in the shoulder due to falling debris.
The damage was contained to units at 1702-1706 W. Estes, where seven families, including five with children, were displaced from their apartments. Tenants of the other apartments in the 32-unit building will able to return to their homes.
Chicago Fire Department Commissioner Jose Santiago told me that the initial investigation revealed traces of a possible accelerant in the interior stairway where the fire started, leading him to suspect arson. The matter was referred to the Chicago Police Department Bomb and Arson squad, which has launched an investigation. I will let you know if the investigation results in an arrest and charges.
Chicago Department of Buildings inspectors and the Chicago Fire Department have confirmed that the smoke detectors in the building were working. Contrary to a news media report that implied the building had nearly 40 outstanding code violations, the Department of Buildings reports only three current building code violations, none of which impacted the fire. The remaining code violations were rectified over five years ago.
How you can help
My office has been working closely with an American Red Cross team, Refugee One representatives, the Rogers Park Builders Group, Northside Community Resources and others to find the displaced tenants new homes.
At least half the families are refugees from war-torn countries, who recently arrived in Rogers Park and are receiving assistance from Refugee One for new furniture, clothes and other household items. To help the other families, the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago has graciously offered to provide them with necessary items.
The building owner has one or two vacant units in his other buildings where he can relocate some of the displaced families, but the remaining families need rental assistance. As I mentioned, we’re working to find them long-term housing, but they may need help with a security deposit or first month’s rent. Families moving into new apartments will be faced with paying rent for the remainder of January twice, and we have received at least one report that a refugee family had collected February’s rent in cash, only to see it literally go up in smoke.
To that end, Northside Community Resources has set up a donation page for you to help families with rental assistance. I urge you to give what you can.